by TINO PEPUKAI
CHIREDZI, (Lowveld Post) – ZIMBABWEAN authorities are negotiating with the European Union (EU) to release the withheld US$20 million grant meant for the upgrading of the Save Valley Conservancy.
The European bloc has withheld the funding until Zimbabwe remove thousands of villagers that forcibly occupied some areas of the sanctuary.
This occupation has worsened the challenge of poaching.
In withholding funding, the EU also expressed concern over acts of vandalism by the settlers.
Government officials from the Masvingo Province confirmed Zimbabwe had re-engaged EU to release the funds.
“The issue is now being dealt with at ministerial level,” said Fungai Mbetsa, the provincial administrator.
“On the other hand, we are also engaging all stakeholders and the affected people so that they move out of the sanctuary. We want to limit the human and wildlife conflict at the same time coming
up with a solution that is beneficial to everyone,” Mbetsa added.
Masvingo Provincial Affairs Minister, Ezra Chadzamira, expressed hope the re-engagement process would be successful.
“We cannot afford to lose such funding on issues that can be corrected. We are therefore pinning our hopes on the success of the re-engagement process,” Chadzamira said.
Former Save Valley Conservancy chairman, Clive Stockhill, who also owns a property in the sanctuary, said at least $4,5 million was needed to repair the damaged fence of the conservancy.
He said once all farm invaders in the area had been removed, they would be able to secure funding for the rehabilitation of the sanctuary.
“We want the community and property owners both to benefit. We actually talked about the need to incorporate communities in this project long back but the government was skeptical about our intentions,” Stockhill said.
“Now that we are reading from the same page with the government, we believe all hurdles will be cleared for the benefit of everyone involved,” Stockhill added.
More than 3 000 villagers occupied Save Valley Conservancy at the height of the invasion of commercial land in the early 2000s.